Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a season of spiritual preparation and anticipation for the coming of Jesus Christ. Advent keeps the meaning of Christmas front and center in our minds. There are a number of spiritual practices used to observe Advent. One of the more familiar Advent traditions is the wreath with four candles, which mark each Sunday of Advent, and each candle has a meaning to focus on the journey toward Christmas.
In speaking to various parishioners, I found a variety of traditions that are practiced. Betsy Olay, Resurrection Catholic School’s middle school theology teacher, celebrates Advent with traditions that have been with her since childhood. “Since both sides of my family are German, there is a German tradition I would take part in when I was in Virginia as a child and still continue today in Florida; the Saint Barbara Branch.” This is a unique tradition because of her family’s German background. Also, her father is a retired Army major and Saint Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen/soldiers. Saint Barbara’s Feast Day falls during Advent on December 4.
Olay describes the tradition, “On that day my brother and I and my parents would each cut a branch from a crab apple tree, which are pretty prevalent in Virginia, and then put the branches in a bowl of water on the window sill. The tradition said that whoever’s branch flowered first, or actually flowered before Christmas, was going to have good luck that year.”
Prayer is also an important tradition during Advent and helps us feel closer to Jesus as we pray for His coming. My Aunt Norma lights a candle each Sunday and says special prayers during the week. “My tradition is the St. Andrew Christmas novena that is prayed during Advent from November 30 until Christmas Eve (15 times a day for 25 days). I count this as my penance. It is said that after saying this novena it will leave your heart well-prepared to welcome the coming of Christ”.
Advent is celebrated around the world. Church of the Resurrection parishioner, Marcela Ruales. grew up in Colombia and has strong traditions carried over from her homeland. She explained, “Although the Advent season extends over the four Sundays before Christmas, in Colombia, as part of our tradition, the season really gets started with “el Dia de las Velitas” or “Day of the Little Candles.” Ruales continues, “This tradition honors the divine maternity (Immaculate Conception) of Mary as the mother of God. Millions of candles are lit across the country. Our neighborhoods/communities gather and celebrate this special occasion with one another. For every candle lit, a wish is made.” Ruales states the wishes are generally for the health and safety of loved ones during the new year.
In addition, Ruales celebrates with the “Novena Navideña” or “Christmas Novena” which is a series of prayers recited for nine straight days—prayers to Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and baby Jesus. “Like the Day of Little Candles, lots of people congregate in their communities, neighborhoods and homes with their extended family members and friends to tell the story of what happened from the moment God announced He was sending his only son, Jesus Christ, to save us to the day He was born. We sing “Villancicos Navideños” or “Christmas carols” and serve traditional Christmas food,” said Ruales.
As you celebrate Advent, try and carry forward your family traditions to celebrate Christ’s coming. Christmas and Advent is my favorite time of the year because of the time spent with family. It only comes once a year, so make the most of it!
Article written by Samantha L., a 7th grader from Resurrection Catholic School, Lakeland.